Raquel Welch Speaks Her Mind
You know what I do? I fix seven bolts. Seven bolts! Day in and day out, the same seven bolts. You know what I think about? Raquel Welch. – Gm striker, quoted in ‘True’
We live by symbols. – Oliver Wendell Holmes
RAQUEL ON ZEN
Raquel and I circle down through Beverly Hills in my rented car with the empty beer cans scuttling around the floor in back like a herd of crabs, and she is in one of her obsessive moods. Can’t stop talking about how the roads around her house have been torn up for months, how the highway department parked two big yellow earthmovers in her front yard practically and she phoned but they wouldn’t take them away, the streets are still in terrible shape, won’t they ever finish. . . .
“You know, Raquel,” I say as we cross Sunset, “you’ll never achieve inner peace and happiness so long as you let things like busted-up streets get to you.”
‘Inner peace and happiness?” She looks at me curiously from behind her smoked gray aviators. “Shit!” she says softly.
RAQUEL CALCULATES DUES PAID DURING TEN YEARS IN THE SEX GODDESS BIZ
We are sitting on the sunporch of Raquel Welch’s house in Beverly Hills, R&B on the box and a chilly sun sparkling off the pool outside. She sits neatly, back straight. Impressive are her big eyes, strong teeth, tumble of red curls, her broad shoulders and soft breasts, high waist and good legs, her balancing-act sex queen vulnerability. She wears too much eye makeup and seems never to make a move, not even knock the ash off her cigarette, without thinking about it first. The sexual undercurrent between us is zero. She is sleek as a racing car and not much more supple.
“A lot has been made over the gigantic dimensions of my breasts,” she says. “It’s total myth. I’m really a rather normal-sized lady of good proportions and a nice figure. I have a tiny waist and I go in and out and I’m not that voluptuous, as you can see.
“People sit and wait for me to turn them on. I think to myself, what the hell, why should I come on to some guy? I can see he’s not interested in me. It’s not me he’s especially interested in. It’s Raquel Welch! The label. He’s after the label.
“To have it said that you’re a sex symbol, the most beautiful girl in the world, is initially terrific. You think, isn’t that neat? Then you pass a mirror and you say, ‘Uh-oh, that face ain’t gonna launch a thousand ships, and that bod’s not so hot either.’ Nobody can be the most beautiful girl in the world. It’s just fairy-tale time.
“So at first I didn’t know what to do. Should I impersonate Marilyn Monroe? I thought, ‘They want me to look a certain way,’ and so I would get myself to look that way. I would come out in public and be afraid to move my head, ’cause I thought maybe something would muss and they’d see I wasn’t all I was cracked up to be. I became uptight and plastic.
“There was a huge discrepancy between the symbol – Raquel Welch – and what I could ever aspire to be for real. The stupidity of it is that once somebody says you’re something, you try to be it. That’s the stupidity. I fell into that trap for the first couple of years. It’s like being an ex-convict, I think. First you do your time, then you get out and they put you on parole, but they’re always waiting for you to goof up. They have always in the back of their minds, ‘Dummy, dumb.’
“Now, after some psychotherapy, I’ve come to grips with the monster and said OK, there’s the public thing, the label. It means money and the chance to do other things. It’s going to be tough, but using it you can open up the other side and let people find out you’re a serious artist.”
RAQUEL APPEARS ON TELEVISION
It is a special titled Really, Raquel. I watch it alone in a dark viewing room at CBS in New York. Except for a brief appearance by a male dancer, she is the only human onstage for the entire hour. All the other performers are puppets.
Courage in the face of persecution is the show’s theme. Raquel does a couple of songs in a spray-on black gown and diamond necklace, then smiles and says breathily, “Well, I guess you didn’t think I’d get this far.”
In front of a chorus line of puppets she executes dance steps with the precision of a karate master. She sits on a stool and recites what she calls myths about “that other Raquel,” the public one. One myth is that she is actually a man.
“Next time you read or hear something about me, I hope you’ll remember this little piece of advice,” she says. Then she sings, “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”
One of the puppets is a Mae West doll.
SHE SURVEYS HER CHILDHOOD
“I was happiest in fantasy. I wasn’t good at dealing with reality. Telephone poles and the rest spoiled things. I wanted things to be perfect. I wanted a storybook life, to be Rapunzel and Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, all the beautiful ladies that wonderful men came along on their big white horses and dragged away. Which is not remarkable, a lot of kids grow up that way. But I decided it was gonna happen. Go for broke, honey, guts up all the way.
“In high school I was Rocky, then after the equipment arrived, Hotrocks. I suddenly got a lot of attention from the guys. I was Miss La Jolla and a cheerleader. We were young girls with new equipment, struttin’ our stuff. I was liking it but it was a little confusing, because high school boys are trying to find out a few things themselves, you know, and it’s very dodgy. Push a little, shove a little. . . .
“My father was a dictator. He was very tough on me. I rose to the cause and tried to be accepted by him, tried to please him, got lots of good grades and everything.
“When puberty arrived and people started to say, ‘My, aren’t you pretty!,’ it was almost too late. I had almost built into myself by then that I would never get the acceptance I needed from my father. I was on the defensive. I still have that with me now, to a degree.
“Beauty to me is a crutch. It’s what I built my career on. To be accepted by other human beings was always my first insecurity, and all the things I tried to do in childhood were eventually solved when I got to the age that I could be accepted as a woman. When the equipment arrived, about age 14, that was how I first knew people liked me. Up until that time I was really quite frightened that people didn’t like me at all.”
She sits forward in her chair, brows knit.
“Do you see what I mean? I’m not phrasing it very well. What I’m saying is, when I turned out to have a nice figure and be a pretty girl, at least that was one area I could succeed in. Do you see? At least a little light shone down.”
Born Raquel Tejada, Chicago, September 5th, 1940, Bolivian father, American mother. Grew up in La Jolla, California. Homecoming queen, winner of local beauty contests. Married Jim Welch upon high school graduation. Two children – daughter Tahnee, son Damon. TV weather girl, drama classes. Divorced Welch after three years. Brief career in Dallas as Neiman-Marcus model days, cocktail waitress nights. Back in Hollywood met Pat Curtis, former child actor (Olivia de Havilland’s infant in Gone with the Wind, Buzz in Leave It to Beaver). Curtis became her lover and manager. His promotion of a poster of Raquel in a chamois bikini propelled her to the covers of 80 European magazines; American star billing followed. Married Curtis 1967. Ranked in Reuters poll among world’s Top Ten box office stars 1969. Divorced Curtis 1972. She told a friend Curtis’s conversations with her had come to be dominated by the single phrase, “Shut up, Raquel.”
Films (excluding early bit parts such as walk-ons in an Elvis Presley movie and an appearance in a beach blanket epic): Fantastic Voyage, One Million Years B.C., Fathom, The Biggest Bundle of Them All, The Lovely Ladies, Shoot Loud, Louder . . . I Don’t Understand, Bedazzled, The Queens, One Hundred Rifles, The Beloved, Lady in Cement, The Oldest Profession in the World, Bandolero!, Flare-up, The Magic Christian, Myra Breckinridge, Hannie Caulder, Fuzz, Kansas City Bomber, The Last of Sheila, The Three Musketeers, The Wild Party (to be released winter 1974). Note that with a few exceptions you might never have heard of most of these films, not even here, but for the fact that Raquel Welch was in them. As it happens most of them made money. Only about four or five American actresses draw the public sufficiently that almost any film with one of them in it, even a turkey, will make money. This quality is known as “bankability,” and Raquel has it.
RAQUEL RESPONDS TO A CHARGE BY “TIME” MAGAZINE THAT HER RELATIONSHIP WITH PAT CURTIS WAS “BUSINESS AT FIRST SIGHT”
“That’s really the lowest. Why do they think professional women are such barracudas? You’re not going to pick somebody just to be a fucking Svengali. Come on. If somebody loves you, it makes you feel like a million bucks. That goes for me and for the lady doing it under the fence with the man next door. She’s gonna feel better.”
SHE RECALLS AN EARLY FILMIC EXPERIENCE
“The picture was One Million Years B.C. I had never been out of the country and I was sure nobody would ever hear of this movie again. I could sweep it under the carpet and meanwhile get a trip to Europe. I thought, ‘Steve McQueen started by making The Blob and it didn’t hurt him.’
“We filmed in the Canary Islands on the side of this volcano, and one of the first days I went up to the director and said, ‘I’ve been thinking about this scene and I think . . .’
“The director said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding. You’ve been thinking about this scene? See that rock over there? You just start from that rock and run across to that other rock, and that’s all we want from you today.’
“I said, ‘Well, don’t you think that the girl, now that she’s fallen in love with Tumak . . .’
“He said, ‘Listen, if you want something to do, there’s going to be a giant turtle coming over that mountain, and when you get in the middle of the two rocks, you can go “Oh!” and do a take like you’re frightened.’
“I realized then that it really was a bad monster movie I was in, no way out of it. I had sold my soul to get to the Canary Islands.”
ON THE SET OF ANOTHER FILM YEARS LATER, RAQUEL LECTURES A TOP ACTRESS ABOUT STARDOM
“You don’t know anything about being a movie star. Don’t you know what they’re doing is fucking posters of Redford in the alleys of Rome? You don’t have to worry about acting. You don’t have to talk about any of that stuff. All you need is to get a poster they can fuck in the alleys of Rome.”
FRIENDS, FAMILY, FANS AND COSTARS COMMENT UPON RAQUEL AS AN ACTRESS
Patrick Curtis, her exhusband: “Can Steve McQueen act? Can John Wayne?”
Richard Benjamin, her costar in The Last of Sheila: “In movies it’s important that some people be able to act. For some other people it’s only necessary that they show up.”
Josephine Hoyt, her mother, on the first of Raquel’s two TV specials: “It had something for everybody. It had skiing, there were love songs, beautiful clothes, Mexico and Paris were in it, John Wayne was in it, Bob Hope. It got bad reviews but everybody I talked to liked it.”
Rex Reed, her costar in Myra Breckinridge: “I don’t know any contemporary actress who has made more enemies than Raquel. In one respect she wants to be a serious actress, to be taken seriously, work with people like Nichols and Kazan. On the other hand she’s still trying to live up to the movie star image, be what Raquel Welch is. These two things create a tremendous struggle within her.”
Justin Smith, her drama coach: “She has the potential to be the best actress in this country.”
Jack Thibeau, poet and fan: “I think Raquel Welch is something like Amelia Earhart. Amelia Earhart flew a lot of miles, but she didn’t care about anything but taking off and landing.”
RAQUEL ON PROFESSIONALISM
“You have to work with people, whatever assholes they might be.”
RAQUEL AND RON
Raquel is having lunch in a Hollywood restaurant with her boyfriend Ron Talsky, a personable man with a beard. It is the holiday season. Raquel is wearing studded jeans and a leather jacket and sunglasses but the waitress has recognized her anyway and is fussing around, hustling the plates and making snappy conversation. When the check has been paid the waitress says, “Have a happy holiday,” and heads for the kitchen. Raquel calls after her, “Merry Christmas.”
The waitress disappears. Raquel is suddenly stricken.
“She’s Jewish, isn’t she? I shouldn’t have said ‘Merry Christmas.’ I should have said, ‘Happy holidays.'”
“If you’re used to saying ‘Merry Christmas,”’ Ron counsels, ”say it and don’t apologize.”
Raquel hugs Ron. “Oh darling, you’re so heavy and I love you.”
RAQUEL COMMENTS ON RUMORS HER BEAUTY IS ARTIFICIALLY PRESERVED
On the sunporch she has chain-smoked a pack of my little cigars and now chews an apple. “I know I’m supposed to be silicone from the knees up; I’m said to have scars under both my breasts; my ass has been lifted; I’ve had a rib removed; my teeth are not my own, and so on. Actresses call me up and ask, ‘Who did your tits?’
“Well, I’ve never had any such surgery. It’s so irritating when they say I have. What can I do? Sue? Give everybody a squeeze test? I mean, fuck it.”
THE SUBJECTS OF PORNOGRAPHY AND DRUGS ARE BROACHED
‘I haven’t been to see any porno movies. I haven’t had the time. . . .
“I’ve found what you would call pornography in my children’s rooms and I haven’t said anything to them except, ‘Where did you get the magazine,’ and ‘Well, OK,’ and that’s it. Because how the hell else are they going to know? I’m certainly not going to invite them in for a session. I’m not that revolutionized. . . .
“I’ve never been into a drug culture or felt that I was a head or anything. I was intrigued from time to time for a while about what it was that was making everybody more – uh – aware. But I myself would never toy with any of what I think of as hard drugs, and that includes coke. I have never done coke and hope I never do.
“I have smoked dope and I probably will continue to. But I’m not interested in getting into anything harder. My kids know I smoke and they’re not very happy about it. I think their generation is more conservative.”
RAQUEL ON PHYSIOLOGY
“The mind is an erogenous zone.”
LOOKING AT OLD PHOTOS
Up in the attic Raquel drags scrapbooks from the closets. There are dozens of them. Sweating, she hauls them out and tosses them flat on the floor. They contain thousands of photos from magazines in dozens of languages: Raquel on the Riviera, Raquel at the roller derby, Raquel getting married, divorced, leered at, Raquel in miniskirts, bathing suits, sweaters, gowns, jeans. . . . Most of the photos already have discolored with age. “It’s frightening, you know?” says Raquel. “Cause it ain’t gonna hold up forever.”
In one scrapbook I find a French cover photo of Raquel sitting on the beach facing the camera, apparently nude though her crossed legs block conclusive evidence. Seeing it, she gets perky.
“I didn’t want to pose nude but I thought, how can I sit so I’ll look nude.”
She sits on the floor and kicks off her shoes to demonstrate.
“I figured if I wore a bikini with no straps and sat like this, legs crossed, and grabbed my knees. . . .”
She duplicates the pose and smiles with glee.
“That was it! You see?”
She throws up her hands like a referee signaling a field goal.
“You see? I was home free!”
A LETTER FROM RAQUEL
It arrives handwritten in pencil on yellow legal paper:
Dear Tim: I cannot lose the feeling that I haven’t communicated all I wanted to, to you. It’s not that I didn’t talk – God knows I can rap – but maybe I expected to come up with some answers for myself. I don’t ask myself those metaphysical questions you did – about why I am the way I am, whether I’m happy, secure, etc. Well, not verbally, only subconsciously. I thought I should write these words to you. I mean, I did the interview to say something, and I ended up not saying it.
I am really fed up doing second-rate roles in mediocre films and working against the prejudice that comes with my “image.” have studied all my life. I am not trying to become an actress, I am an artist and an actress. An actor’s life is the only place there is for me to practice and stretch the muscles of my craft, which otherwise I haven’t had the chance to use.
I’m now planning to devote more time to areas outside my career in films, away from the vicious Hollywood gossip that hammers home until it is reflex action for people to think of me as a silicone Barbie Doll. I am going to develop some film properties I own and devote time to the theater and to the music field. I’d like to cut an album with my favorite musicians, for example J.J. Cale, Randy Newman, the Jazz Crusaders hopefully! and perhaps go on tour as a singer with a big band. I’m just discovering myself musically and I really dig it. It’s the best. And so far the people have been really straight about what they’re doing. Just music, period.
The film industry and even my agents do not get the picture about me. They don’t think I care about my craft. To the greater public I’m the American walking, talking Coke bottle, the Marlboro woman. I hate it. I laugh ’cause it’s funny, but I hate it. Let’s face it, how do you live the life of a Coke bottle? There’s no tangibility to my “image.” I doubt if people even believe my parts move. Well, they do, they do.
I would work for practically nothing to do a film by Truffaut or Schlesinger, George Roy Hill, Billy Friedkin. . . . You see, it’s not a question of fame, money, success; it’s a question of living and doing something. I want to do well.
Maybe you will say this in STONE. It’s the only place that might say it. You have been straight with me, thanks.
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